Or, a tale of why sharing is not always caring.
Hey everyone, Reecius here from Frontline Gaming to dissect a sticky rules debate raging across ye old interwebs about how to interpret a new rule involving Tau. Read along my intrepid friends and we shall get to the bottom of this.
So first of all, caveat: until we have the book in our hands, this is all theoretical. Moving on.
What’s the big deal?
Well, due to a typically ambiguously worded rule from GW in regards to the new Tau “Decurion” style detachment, the Hunter Contingent, we’re left with a huge discrepancy among gamers as to how to interpret a command benefit for that detachment.
The rule in question: Coordinated Firepower
Whenever a unit from a Hunter Contingent selects a target in the shooting phase, any number of other units from the same Detachment who can still shoot can add their firepower to the attack. These units must shoot the same target, resolving their shots as if they were a single unit–this includes the use of Marker Light abilities. When 3 or more units combine their firepower, the firing models add 1 to their Ballistic Skill.
We all read that and something slightly different occurs in our minds. I read it and immediately assumed it meant you pool the various unit’s weapons and resolve them as if you were shooting a unit with mixed weapon types, follow the normal shooting rules in the BRB with the exception that Marker Light counters could overlap between units. However, a number of people have read it differently to assume that it means they behave–literally–as a single unit and therefore gain the benefits of any various buffs associated with any of the firing units. This obviously leads to the idea of using Buffmander (aka a Tau Suit Commander with various signature systems) to give all contributing units his buffs such as Ignores Cover, Twin Linked, Tank Hunter, Monster Hunter, etc. These wargear items all read that they impact his unit.
I tend to lean on the conservative side of any rules interpretation anyway, and so my reaction to it was normal for me: assuming the shots all just came in at the same time. My reaction to other folks saying that they all became one unit and all got Buffmander’s buffs was to laugh and wave it away as a small group of players simply trying to gain maximum advantage from a poorly worded rule. No one could seriously think that theoretically an entire army could benefit from a single model’s upgrade, right? That’s ridiculous. However, to my surprise, many folks were indeed making that very argument. OK, I thought to myself, let me ask some folks I know that are seasoned veterans what their reading of the rule was.
Ben Mohlie, aka Space Curves, aka Captain America, former USA ETC Team Captain, multiple GT winner, actual rocket scientist:
I think the only way in which they are “firing as one unit” is for order of operations and wound pool allocation.
OK cool, so far I am on the right track….
Ben Cromwell, aka Dr. Insanotron, former USA ETC team member, GT winner:
I think it’s pretty clear they would get the bonuses. Shoot as one unit is very clear to me. As is that they all benefit from the same marker lights.
Wait, what? That’s the polar opposite response to mine and Ben M.’s reading of the rule.
Goatboy, BoLS staff writer, Adepticon winner, artist with mad skillz:
I think if they all shoot at the same unit, they get all the bonuses to that one unit. If they split fire they lose the bonus because it’s not at the target unit.
Uh…OK, that is totally different from either response.
Nick Rose, aka Darkwynn, GT winner, USA ETC team member:
The starting unit that shoots has the rules that impact all other contributing units, but only the first unit’s special rules count.
Wha…? 4 different people, all of whom I would consider to be masters of the game with expert level rules knowledge, all give 4 different answers.
I gave the above example to illustrate a point: there are no absolutes in rules interpretations as we are working with a medium that is not clear: language. There are nothing but shades of grey which is why we have rules debates in the first place. So, let us look at this like gentlemen and determine what the facts are, shall we?
What is the discrepancy?
Essentially there are two ways to read the Coordinated Firepower rule to arrive at the various interpretations of it:
- Reading #1: The units literally become one unit for that shooting phase, which is why they gain all of the benefits of a model like Buffmander.
- Reading #2: The units resolve their shooting using some of the rules for a unit, but do not become an actual unit as defined by the BRB.
Let’s apply some logic to these interpretations:
When using the Coordinated Firepower special rule, all participating units become 1 unit for the duration of that shooting phase.
- Buffmander’s special wargear only effects he and his unit.
- As all contributing units are now in the same unit as Buffmander, they gain the benefits of his special wargear which can grant them Ignores Cover, Twin Linked, and whichever benefit Buffmander selects from the Puretide Engram Neuropchip such as Tank Hunter, Monster Hunter, etc.
- If any model in the affected “unit of units” is benefiting from an in game effect such as controlling a Skyfire Nexus, the entire combined unit gains the ability to Skyfire, etc.
- Models with a Target Lock can shoot at a different target to the rest of their unit.
- A Gargantuan Creature can fire each of its weapons at a different target if desired. Pg. 70 BRB
- Therefore, when firing these models as “one unit” so long as 1 model in the combined unit fires on the targeted enemy unit they have satisfied the requirement of the Coordinated Firepower rule and all other models in the combined unit with the ability to fire at different targets may do so.
One of the counter arguments I have read in regards to the above, is that Coordinated Firepower states that every unit must fire at the same target unit. If you make that argument, then you are already making the distinction that they are in fact not a single unit and therefore would not gain the above benefits. However, if you are arguing that they become one unit in order to gain said benefits, you must accept everything else that comes along with that, including the ability to divide their fire as a normal unit with the ability to do this could. Nothing in Coordinated Firepower prohibits or alters any other rules for shooting. Also, reading the rules for shooting in the BRB, again, we see the following:
- Choose a target: Once you have chosen the unit that you want to shoot with, choose a single enemy unit for them to shoot at. Pg. 30 BRB
- Which models can fire: All models in the unit must shoot at the same target unit. Pg. 31 BRB
As with the Coordinated Firepower rule, it indicates that all models in a unit must select the same target unit and every model must fire at that unit. Splitfire, Target Lock, the Gargantuan Creature shooting rules, etc. all break these rules. The same wording that allow these special rules to ignore the normal rules for shooting allow them to ignore the target specification for Coordinated Firepower.
So, taking the next step with this, say you have a unit of two Broadsides with Buffmander attached, one of the Broadsides has a Target Lock. You also have a unit of 3 Stormsurge, and some other unit with a Target Lock on every model. Using the above logic, they all become a single unit and gain Buffmander’s abilities to Ignore Cover, Twin Link, and Tank/Monster Hunter, and then proceed to resolve the shooting attack as one unit. You get something like the image below as a possible example of what happens. Each Stormsurge can fire on 8 different targets a turn, so 24 potential targets for a unit of 3. And every other model with the ability to shoot at something different, also gains the ability. Theoretically, you could shoot every eligible unit on the table with a +1BS, Twin Linked, Ignores Cover, Tank/Monster Hunter shot if you accept this argument.
Problems with Reading #1:
If you argue that they are all one unit attached to a model like Buffmander, which is the only way to gain the benefits of his wargear, that means the unit must abide by all rules for a unit. Coordinated Fire gives no specific exceptions to the normal rules for forming a unit such as:
- In order for models to form a unit, they must be in unit coherency. Pg.9, 19 BRB.
- Models not in unit coherency must attempt to get back into unit coherency, including running if they have that option. Pg. 19 BRB
- Independent Characters cannot form a unit with Monstrous Creatures, Gargantuan Creatures or vehicles. Pg.166, 70 BRB
- Non-standard units expressly state that they are an exception to the normal rules for units. There is no such exception granted by the Coordinated Firepower special rule to form an illegal unit.
- Example: Cohort Cybernetica (which allows two units of Monstrous Creatures and an Independent Character to form a unit): All models in this Formation must be fielded as a single unit, even though this is not normally allowed. The Formation’s Tech-Priest Dominus cannot leave this unit. Pg. 66 Cult Mechanicus
- Example: Dark Artisan (which allows two units of Monstrous Creatures and an Independent Character to form a unit): All units in this Formations must be fielded as a single unit, even though this is not normally allowed. Models with the Independent Character special rule cannot join this unit. Pg.56 Haemonculous Covens
So, we’re already starting to see cracks appear in the argument that all contributing units using Coordinated Firepower literally become one unit. If we assume they all become some mega unit, the rules give us no means of resolving any of these contradictions. In what way are they a unit? At what point do they become a unit? We cannot simply choose to apply some of the rules for a unit and ignore the others. We have no way of resolving these issues without either making up new rules or ignoring current rules.
When resolving Coordinated Firepower, contributing units use some of the rules for a unit, but do not actually become a unit.
- Coordinated Firepower: These units must shoot at the same target…
- This specifies individual units, and implies a distinction between the contributing units. If they actually became 1 unit, they would by default all have to fire at the same target unit and no distinction would need to be made. Pg. 31 BRB.
- Coordinated Firepower: …resolving their shots as if they were a single unit…
- The BRB gives us the tools to resolve shooting from a unit with multiple weapon types in the rules for shooting. Pg. 30-31. Models with the ability to reroll specific dice or that have some other special ability, simply roll their shots separately from those that do not have these abilities. And, why specify that they resolve their shots as if they are a unit if they already have become a single unit? Again, an unnecessary distinction.
- Coordinated Firepower: …this includes the use of Marker Light abilities.
- Again, if they became one unit, Marker Lights would not need to be specified as working for all of them as the rules for Marker Lights already state they only work for a single unit. This implies that Marker Lights are the exception to the rule and that the contributing units do not literally become one unit.
Problems with Reading #2:
Which aspects of being a unit do you use and when do they apply? The people arguing for giving Buffmander’s sweet caress to the entire army say that that is the aspect of being a unit they want to focus on. However, looking at the actual verbiage of the rules we have we don’t have a ton to go on, other than resolving their shots as if they were a single unit, and that Marker Lights overlap between these units.
So, how do we determine which aspects of shooting as a unit do we use?
Consider the following order of operations solution to the dilemma:
- First Tau unit chooses a target.
- Any contributing Tau units also selects the same target unit.
- If there are 3 or more contributing units, they all gain +1 BS.
- You determine how many Marker Light counters you are going to use and apply the effect of them to every firing unit.
- This answers why they have to shoot at the same time: Marker Lights are used BEFORE you roll to hit.
- All units fire at the target at the same time with each unit’s specific special rules applying only to it, including the bonuses from the above Marker Light Counters.
- Resolve these shooting attacks as you would normally, firing weapons with the same name at the same time, and working through each individual weapon type per normal.
- You then allocate wounds per normal, and the target unit takes saves, etc.
Reading #2 provides a solution to the situation that uses only the rules given to us in the Coordinated Firepower definition. It satisfies every condition of the rule. It breaks no other rules of the game.
Reading #1 of the rule breaks other game rules. It creates bizarre situations wherein Buffmander is attached to a vehicle on the other side of the table, where all of the various units are no longer in unit coherency that could not form a unit in the first place, or a model standing on a Skyfire Nexus on one side of the table can give every Tau model on the table Skyfire, etc. It creates questions we have no answers to in the rules and provides us no explanation as to why we should break those rules or explanations of how to as other instances of similar circumstances do.
Reading #2 is the simpler of the readings and as Occam’s Razor tells us, the simplest explanation to an argument is usually the correct one. It also answers the question of how they resolve the various Tau unit’s shooting and which aspects of being a unit we use, taking into account only the verbiage of the Coordinated Firepower and BRB rules. Reading #1 requires breaking many of the rules in the game and creating situations that should not be possible. Reading #2 does not.
Therefore, Reading #2 is the more correct interpretation of the rule.
But, this is how I kill Deathstars, you jerk!
Hey, I get it. Tau struggle with Deathstars in a big way and reading the rule the first way would certainly help, but don’t forget that this rule is still mega powerful with the second reading of it! Theoretically, every unit in your army can benefit from a single Marker Light AND gain +1 BS. That’s bonkers good. If you can shoot a Deathstar to death, this allows you to do it. Plus, a true Deathstar doesn’t care about most of Buffmanders abilities. Tank/Monster Hunter and Ignores Cover often don’t do anything to a Deathstar with a high invul save, invisibility, or that can reroll said invul save, has FnP, etc. If you need to Ignore Cover, you can still do so with 2 Marker Lights for every model that fires on the target unit, and another Marker Lights boosts your BS an additional points, so you become extremely accurate, anyway. Wolfstars are gong to die very nearly as easily to reading 2 of the rule as reading 1. What does get owned by reading 1 of the rule is everything else, which is not good for the game, plus it creates illegal units. Trust me, I want Tau to be good and have a means to deal with Deathstars (I oppose them on general principal, lol), but this is a baby with the bathwater scenario. It creates far more problems than it solves.
What I imagine hapenned is that the individual writing this rule was thinking how he or she could write the it in a way that worked with the existing Marker Light rules. Since you use them before the Tau faction unit shoots, in order to allow them to effect multiple units, the rules writer likely came to the conclusion that they’d have to shoot at the same time as if they were a single unit, not that they actually became a single unit. It also creates a risk/reward choice wherein the Tau player has to decide how many shooting resources they will commit to the action before firing. I love the rule in concept, but the wording of it is terrible and confusing.
Hopefully this clears the issue up. Thanks for reading!